Spearfishing in Lake Kariba

Facts and Figures

Construction of the dam wall began in mid 1955 and the wall was sealed in December 1958. The dam took 4 years to fill with a length of 300km and an average width of 19.4km. The wall is 128m high and 620m long. There are 293 islands in lake kariba with Chete island being the largest at 2637 hectares.


The best time for spearfishing in kariba is the period from September to January. This is when most fish species are plentiful and the water offers reasonably good visibility. February is the peak rainfall month and rain swollen rivers bring muddy water into the lake reducing visibility and making spearfishing conditions more difficult. The islands away from the river mouths offer all year round diving conditions with reasonable visibility. Conditions can vary from year to year with good rains bringing lots of nutrients into the lake causing a plankton bloom that brings about the `pea soup` conditions. The Sanyati basin is the most dived area with average water visibility of 3-4m. The Bumi basin has the best visibility averaging 5m. The Sanyati basin comprises Sampakaruma island, island 189, the Nyaodza and Gache Gache rivers, Sanyati east, the Sanyati gorge and Sanyati west.


Most fish are found in relatively shallow water with 8m and shallower being the most productive depths. Certain fish like Cornish jack and bottlenose favour deeper water. Overhangs and holes in 10 to 15m are the best spots for hunting these fish. The bulk of the spearos catch will be made up of bream(tilapia) of which there are a number of different types. The red breast tilapia and kariba tilapia(commonly known as a mozzie) are the two most commonly speared. Other popular fish are chessa, nkupi, mudsucker, vundu and the prized tigerfish. This hard fighting fish is very wary and they are not easy to shoot.

Hunting Techniques

Every spearo used to these conditions will have his own hunting technique. One of the methods is to dive to the bottom as quietly as possible and lie motionless. If there are fish in the location they will come in to investigate provided that you stay dead still. Any movement will spook the fish. Likely spots to hunt are amongst the trees or under permanent salvinia(kariba weed) mats found in sheltered bays. Chessa and nkupi favour sandy or rocky bottoms. Tigerfish patrol the edge of weed beds, the dead tree line or river estuaries prior to the rains. Another way to hunt is to dive to the base of a large tree from a distance away and to slowly rise up the trunk looking for fish feeding or basking amongst the branches. Swimming slowly along the bottom until fish are seen and then lying motionless until they return to investigate can also work. Short guns are used with barrel lengths of a metre or less. Reels are probably a good idea for the bigger fish such as tiger and vundu.


Gill-nets could be a problem when diving in bad visibility and a good knife is an essential piece of equipment. Hippos and crocodiles are an obvious danger. The risk can be minimized by speaking to the local spearos and getting their recommendations. They use light boats that can be easily paddled by the top man that follow closely when they are diving. Also staying away from known crocodile hot spots. As the danger is very real, it is imperative to speak to the locals, some of whom have been diving in the lake for over 20 years without serious mishap. As a matter of interest, the 1976 South African Spearfishing Championships were dived in Lake Kariba.